In a quick, unanimous vote this morning, the Sound Transit board officially approved a set of changes to this fall's ballot measure that could bring new light rail lines to the region years sooner than previously expected.
As I explained last week, the changes are an effort to make Sound Transit 3 (ST3) better and more palatable to voters. ST3 is the agency's largest ever tax package and promises new light rail lines to suburbs like Everett and Tacoma and within Seattle to Ballard and West Seattle. Today's vote formally added the changes to the agency's draft of ST3.
The changes to the package will speed up the timelines for those lines and make one change that's especially relevant for Seattle voters: Instead of running the line to Ballard alongside traffic on 15th Avenue, as previously planned, the changes fund an elevated line through that area. That makes the line more reliable because it's not vulnerable to traffic interruptions like we regularly see in south Seattle, where light rail runs along the street. Overall, the improvements will add $4 billion to the original $50 billion plan. Sound Transit plans to ask taxpayers to pay that extra amount over a longer period of time, rather than asking for more from each voter each year. More details here.
"The vote you're taking today is...truly momentous," Dow Constantine, King County executive and chair of the Sound Transit board, told board members this morning. "You are setting down the template for the growth and development of this region for the next several generations."
While the improvements are victories on most of the issues transit advocates have been pushing for, there are a few outstanding asks.
1) Some in Ballard—and on the Seattle City Council—are still pushing for a tunnel rather than a bridge to carry light rail to their neighborhood. That would be a significantly more expensive project—$450 million more expensive, reports Mike Lindblom.
2) The advocacy group Seattle Subway wants the final ST3 package to designate a few projects that aren't funded but will be studied as "provisional." (Subway's favorite in this category: a line from Ballard to the University of Washington.) This change is a little wonky, but Seattle Subway believes it could make these lines a reality sooner. The group argues that if the projects are provisional, they could be funded by unexpected revenue or money leftover from other projects. (If having money leftover sounds like a pipe dream, consider that the recent extension of light rail to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium came in $200 million under budget.)
"We need to be both prudent and scrappy," Seattle Subway's political director Jonathan Hopkins told the Sound Transit board today, urging them to "plan for success." Read more about Seattle Subway's thinking on this here.
The Sound Transit board has shown little appetite for either of these changes, but advocates have another three weeks to try. The board will take its final vote to send ST3 to the November ballot on June 23.